The Stillness After the Snow

Written by on November 25, 2010

Snow as witnessed from our balcony in downtown Seattle; the Seattle Art Museum and the famous statue, “Hammering Man” on the left-hand side; the historic section of town–Pioneer Square–visible in the distance looking down First Avenue

Snow gripped the Northwest last Sunday and Monday, just in time to set the scene for Thanksgiving week. It was a beautiful display of Mother Nature’s craft as tiny snowflakes danced around downtown, over Elliott Bay, and to points far beyond.

Since I was a child, I have always loved the stillness that snowfalls bring to the earth, the way that modern life seems to stand still–even if only for a day or two–as people (even grown-ups) enjoy a snow day with their children.

Cheers to Thanksgiving and this special time of the year.

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Beautiful Bouquets and My Mother’s Vase

Written by Braiden on November 18, 2010

Everybody loves receiving a bouquet of fresh-cut flowers (yes, even some men I know!). There’s  just something so uplifting and joyous in receiving such a gift of nature.

White dahlias and star-gazer lilies in my mother’s vase

And as I’ve said before, I love to arrange flowers, then my husband works his magic in his photography studio. He shoots the blossoms on a raised platform and  in front of a black-velvet backdrop.

This arrangement from earlier this autumn is especially significant because the vase was part of my mother’s family, passed down to her, then to me. The vase had a partner and the pair sat on either side of the mantelpiece in my mother’s childhood home. Later the duo graced the bookshelves in the den in our family home.

I was sorry when one of the vases arrived broken at our home in Seattle. Poorly packed, it didn’t survive the rough journey from suburban Philadelphia where I grew up.

But I’ve proudly displayed the survivor since 1996. It means so much to combine my love of flower arranging with an object that my mother, and I both love.


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Little Deaths

Written by Braiden on November 15, 2010

On and off throughout my life–as far back as eighth grade–I’ve tried my hand at writing fiction, everything from several romance novels to half a vampire/Gothic/time travel novel to screenplays.

Other than a few short stories in the college literary magazine, none of my fiction writing has ever been published. So it is with a bit of trepidation that I offer up one of my short stories for what I hope will be your reading pleasure today.

“Little Deaths” explores the everyday things in our lives that change or die as we get older, as well as relationships that sour over the years.

I believe it is very much in the Five More Minutes With zeitgeist. And as we move forward with the Web site, I want to offer every sort of form to readers for their edification and enjoyment–memoirs, short stories, poems, video, audio, and whatever forms of communication may one day be a part of our everyday lives.

I hope you enjoy reading “Little Deaths” as much as I am happy and elated to share it.

*****

Helen clicked off the television the moment the advertisement came on, the one that showed a middle-aged woman with flowing locks running through a field of flowers while the announcer intoned, “Rogaine for Women, for the times when the hair on the bathroom floor isn’t your husband’s.”

Male-pattern baldness ran in Helen’s family, with her father, grandfather, and great-grandfather’s heads all eventually growing as smooth and shiny as billiard balls. Now it was her brother Henry’s turn; even with twice-daily Rogaine use, his hairline was receding as fast as a redwood forest during a firestorm.

As she padded to the bathroom, Helen realized that lately she had begun to dread taking showers. She was mad about the Pine Sap Shampoo for Thinning Hair she’d bought at the health-food store for an extravagant $24.95, and madder still because even as the foul-smelling suds permeated to her scalp, strands of hair stuck to her fingers. As she patted the shampoo over her head, trying to keep as many hairs in her head as possible, her gentle touch wasn’t working.

Tendrils of hair curled over her body and stuck to her extremities and stomach, clinging obstinately even as she tried to brush them away. Each fallen hair seemed like a personal defeat, a little death, mocking her. Why had the hairs grown so spindly and thin lately? Why wouldn’t they stay in her head any more?

Helen had heard of men and women who lost the hair over their entire bodies, including eyelashes and eyebrows. Victims of alopecia areata were often featured on “Oprah” or “Jerry Springer” along with severe burn victims or albinos–people who looked different from the norm. To a person, these hairless humans said they’d rather have lost a kidney than their hair.

Helen’s father attributed his hair loss to the tight helmet he wore during combat in World War II. His painstaking comb-overs were the stuff of family legend, something Dr. Schneider pursued as relentlessly as the patients he probed in his medical office in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

Helen could still remember the way her father stood in front of the bathroom mirror and moistened a small straight comb with hot water. Then, as carefully if he were performing inner-ear surgery, he coaxed a few fluffy brown wisps from one side of his head to the other, barely covering his bald pate.

Once, when her father came to visit Helen after she married, the cat jumped onto the sofa while he napped. Wolfgang licked his bald spot with relish, attracted by the oils on the bare scalp, and Dr. Schneider awoke with a start. Helen laughed, but Dr. Schneider didn’t find it funny. He never liked animals much anyway. Now Helen locked the cat away whenever her father came to visit.

As Helen stood naked in front of the bathroom mirror, examining the bald patches that glowed eerily around her temples, her once perky breasts and stomach that now sagged forlornly, she remembered how her father sometimes used to take her and Henry to the hospital when he had an emergency call.

When the two tired of coloring or playing with the telephones in his office, they went downstairs to the hospital museum, a secure place where they were allowed to roam freely.

The see-through skeleton was Helen’s favorite exhibit, a six-foot-tall, anatomically correct representation of the human body. The clear plastic body made a complete revolution every two minutes, displaying all the organs and arteries and veins as it twirled.

When you pressed the proper button, various bodily systems (the lymph glands, the blood vessels) lit up, bright as a pinball machine.

Henry always pressed the button for the female reproductive system, which illuminated the skeleton’s breasts, ovaries, and vagina.

Helen had never forgotten her brother’s giddy laugh, his childhood reverie as he pressed the button repeatedly and pointed at the skeleton’s hairless body.

The Reunion I Can’t Attend

Written by Braiden on November 8, 2010

An invitation to my high-school graduation

I’ve been thinking a lot about reunions lately, my memories sparked by my upcoming 36th high-school reunion, which takes place just outside of Philadelphia on Friday evening.

The reunion was originally scheduled to coincide with our 35th graduation anniversary last year. But so many people were unavailable on the chosen date, the reunion organizers (several dedicated members of my graduating class of 270 who still live in the Philadelphia area) decided to forget 35 and reschedule our 36th for 2010.

Many of these people I had gone to elementary, junior-, and senior-high school with. Our paths had crossed at school, on the playing field, and at extra-curricular events for 12 years.

A handful I’ve even kept in contact with over all these years.

Braiden on her high-school graduation day from Harriton High School in suburban Philadelphia

Sadly, I won’t be among the group of approximately 60 happy, 50-something Harriton High School graduates reminiscing about favorite teachers and reveling in long-ago fond memories Friday evening.

Airfare from Seattle is simply too costly; time out of the office is always difficult; travels from the West Coast to the East Coast during this time of the year can be dicey, depending on the weather.

And with the advent of Facebook and other social-networking outlets, I figure if I really want to contact an old elementary-school or junior- or senior-high-school acquaintance, I can locate them on Facebook, view their family photos, poke or “friend” them if they look interesting, and voilà–we can be in contact again.

But as I think of the 70 graduates who’ll be reminiscing and reveling on Friday, I can’t help but also think about those graduating seniors who are no longer with us.

I remember the summer after we graduated in 1974, one very popular boy from our class wrapped his car around a telephone pole and died instantly. Obviously, he never made it to college.

My very own high-school boyfriend, who went on to college with me, was killed in a road-rage accident while in his second year in law school. And in Salt Lake City, Utah, of all places.

During their reunion planning, the organizers sent out several lists of our fellow high-school grads who were “missing,” their contact info lost over the years as their families died off and/or they moved out of the region.

Do you have high-school friends–perhaps even a lost love–who have passed on, or whom you haven’t been able to find on Facebook or Twitter?

If so, what would you say if you had five more minutes to spend with them?

Under the Light of the Inspiring Harvest Moon

Written by Braiden on November 4, 2010

I just adore this time of the year with its nippy air, harvest moons, Halloween (which we fondly refer to as “Hollerween”) just passed, and the holidays waiting in the wings.

On a recent trip to Palm Springs for a culinary conference as part of my other life (as a food and wine writer), we witnessed many memorable moons rising above the desert floor.

They were so dramatic, I wanted to share two of the best of them with you today.

Happy harvest-moon season to all of us. Get out there and enjoy an inspiring moonscape tonight!

Desert Moon in Palm Springs

Dark Moon over the Palm Springs desert


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A Beautiful Poem: Autumnal Birth

Written by Braiden on November 1, 2010

This beautiful poem, an ode to autumn, comes from Don Corson, winemaker and co-owner of Camaraderie Cellars in Port Angeles, Washington. In my “other life” (as an award-winning food and wine writer) I wrote an article on Olympic Coast cuisine for The Seattle Times Pacific Northwest magazine’s weekly Taste column.

Entitled, In the Loop, the article profiled Don and other winemakers and restaurateurs from the northern part of Washington state.

A true thinker and dreamer, Don and his wife, Vicki, live where they work–in a statue-garden-like paradise that serves as tasting room, winery, and their home.

Here is Don’s “Autumnal Birth,” which he describes as “a Hildegardian Muse.”

***

Spring’s planting into warm moist earth,

The fertile seed trenched in womb-like soil

There to grow and sprout in the power of

Greening Veriditas.

***

Longer Summer days

Envelop prenatal fruit of vine, tree, and flower

And nurtures the making of the Mystery of ripeness and true birth.

***

Greening grows into Autumnal golding and purpling, reddening and umbering,

Saplings harden,

Leanness fattens,

Thinness plumps,

Sourness sweetens.

***

Birth emerges not as seed sprouted but as fruit picked!

***

My heart, dear Lord,

A ripe fruit in making,

Take it in your time for your plucking by the

Nurture and greening power of your ripened resurrection.

Amen

More stories from: Featured Poem,Featured Story
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